If you are considering taking the slow boat to Luang Prabang from Thailand, either from Chiang Mai or Chiang Kong, here is some information to help you.
This is based on my experience of taking the two day slow boat to Luang Prabang. Our journey started in Chiang Mai. If you are getting the slow boat to Luang Prabang, here is what to expect.
What to Expect on the slow boat journey to Laos, starting in Thailand
- The whole slow boat journey can be booked from Thailand, in your guesthouse, or in a travel shop. You can tell them you want to go to Luang Prabang and they will book a ticket for you. This is more expensive than if you make your own way to Huay Xai, which is where the boat leaves from.
- We just booked a bus from Chiang Mai to Chiang Kong, planning to book our boat ticket when we arrived in Laos. We booked our bus ticket the night before we left Chiang Mai and it cost 400B.
- When you get to Chiang Kong, you can easily get a cheap boat across the river. This will take you from Thailand to Laos, and it is a very short and pleasant, journey.
- Once you are across the river, you are in Laos.
- You can get a visa on arrival when you get to Laos, right by the riverbank. It costs $35, but there may be an extra dollar or two added on, just because. Have American dollars ready.
- Once you get your visa, you can walk up the hill to the town of Huay Xai.
- In Huay Xai, you can purchase a ticket for the boat the night before. You can also book your ticket on the morning of departure, as there are many boats that leave each day. The cost for the slow boat to Luang Prabang costs 240,000 Kp and includes the tuk-tuk to the pier. If you buy your ticket directly from the people by the boats, you should get a slightly cheaper rate.
- Depending on how you time your journey from Thailand to Laos, you will either spend a night in Chiang Kong, back in Thailand, or else in Huay Xai. I would recommend spending the night in Huay Xai, as on the day of departure, it’s only a very short tuk-tuk ride to the pier, rather than having to get from the Thai border to the pier in Laos. Not that this is a long journey either, but you may get delayed getting your visa.
- The town of Huay Xai is pretty basic, yet has everything you need for the slow boat journey, like snacks and cushions.There are multiple shops selling all of the essentials for your slow boat journey.
- On the morning of departure, you can purchase rolls that will keep you going during the day, and water.
- There are snacks sold on board the boat, but to be honest, I don’t really have any memory of this. They sell instant noodles and the usual snacks.
- There are cushions for sale in Huay Xai, buy one. Trust me, sitting on a wooden bench for the day tends to give you a sore behind. Many boats now have car seats, which are a lot more comfortable, but it never hurts to have extra cushioning, so I still say, buy a cushion.
- The departure time is very different to the time you are told it will be. We waited a couple of hours before the boat took off.
- If you can, sit at a window seat, so you can take in the view, and enjoy maximum breeze.
- At the back of the boat, there is an area where you can sit on the ground and, at least on our boat, drink beers and smoke. This is a good spot to meet people, although the boat fumes are stronger here.
- There is also a place to sit where you can put your feet out the side and gaze at the water. Nab this spot if you can, just to enjoy a few minutes of taking it all in.
- Keep an eye out for elephants, as you can sometimes see them bathing in the water. We didn’t see any, but we did see water buffalo.
- After a day of travel, you will come to Pakbeng, the rest spot for the night.
- You will be surrounded by people encouraging you to pick their accommodation. Know your budget, and barter for what you’re willing to pay.
- Don’t drink too much in the town of Pakbeng, as the boat ride the next day will certainly lose it’s magic if you are hungover. Trust me!
- The second day of the journey is longer than the first.
- When your journey ends, you will be in Luang Prabang, except that the pier is actually about 7 k from the town. This is often the way in Asia, so don’t get too upset by it. Such is life, and although the extra money you pay for the tuk-tuk wasn’t part of the original deal, if you know to expect it, it’s not the end of the world. Just think, you’re supporting local people, as that tuk-tuk ride is supporting the economy.
So, that’s what to expect on the slow boat to Luang Prabang from Chiang Mai, based on my experience. All in all, I would recommend that you take the two day slow boat to Luang Prabang. It is a memorable experience, and being out in the fresh air, taking in the view makes a nice change from spending hours in stuffy buses. If you’re feeling fancy, or have the budget to treat yourself, there are also luxury slow boats that you can take to Luang Prabang. These will obviously be a lot more expensive. There is also a speed boat option, which I do not recommend. Apparently it’s a pretty hair-raising ride, and the chilled out aspects of the slow boat journey do not apply.
You can read more about my experience on the slow boat to Luang Prabang here.